Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tae kwon do classes boost skills, spirits of special needs kids

LAND O'LAKES — Elizabeth Montesi watched last week as her 7-year-old son, J.T., punched and jabbed in his white tae kwon do dobak. He and the other children in the martial arts class were working on their coordination and balance. But the biggest benefit for J.T. was the social aspect of the class.

"They're working on all these skills that he normally has trouble with," said Montesi, whose son has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism characterized by difficulties with social interaction. "The biggest benefit has been to his self-confidence because of the social atmosphere. His motor skills are improving too. He's more nimble and better on his feet than he was before."

This month the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex began offering tae kwon do classes for kids with special needs, ranging in age from 3 to 22. Instructor Angela Hill spent 16 years working as a occupational therapist for a private company in Tampa, but these days she has her own business that provides a therapy style all its own, called Achievable Community Interaction Therapy.

The four-week sessions at the Land O'Lakes complex cost $250. By using gymnastics, tae kwon do and soon yoga, Hill is helping special needs kids bridge the gap between isolation and feeling embraced by their peers.

"A lot of kids in our classes don't get to the chance to go into a regular tae kwon do studio or gymnastics class because of their special needs," Hill said. "We want to get the families involved and work on their basic skills and coordination so that they can possibly have the chance to go out into the community some day and participate in these things."

Through the tae kwon do class, Hill and her trained staff of instructors are able to help the children improve basic motor skills, hand-eye coordination, balance and discipline. Using the martial art in this way is something Hill believes can help the kids grow physically, mentally and socially.

"One of the challenges we have is that the kids have issues with bi-lateral coordination and knowing where their body is in space," she said. "We help them make the right adaptations with their body to be able to do a side kick or do a move that is normally difficult for them. Tae kwon do has a lot of things that it can offer, but it's that peer interaction of high-fiving each other that is very important."

Sam Giglia sat in on a class Wednesday to see his 10-year-old daughter, Kaitlin, work on her kicks. But he was happiest to see his daughter, who has autism, developing discipline.

"Tae kwon do does two things: It helps get her exercise, and her self-control is better," Giglia said. "These instructors do a very good job at making the kids comfortable. This is my daughter's first time doing something like this, but she loves it and looks forward to coming every week."

>>fast facts

Other classes

In addition to tae kwon do and gymnastics, occupational therapist Angela Hill also offers camps for special needs children in handwriting, baseball, bowling and basketball. For information contact Hill at (813) 469-2021 or

Tae kwon do classes boost skills, spirits of special needs kids 03/17/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 17, 2012 2:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  2. Kushner to testify before two intelligence committees


    WASHINGTON— President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to make a second appearance on Capitol Hill — he will speak with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, one day after he is scheduled to speak with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators behind closed doors.

    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. [Associated Press]
  3. Rays blow lead in ninth, lose in 10 to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Kevin Cash liked the way Alex Cobb was competing Friday night. He liked the way the hard contact made by the Rangers batters went away after the second or third inning. So as the game headed toward the ninth, there was no doubt in Cash's mind that sending Cobb back to the mound was …

    Rays starter Alex Cobb can hardly believe what just happened as he leaves the game in the ninth after allowing a leadoff double then a tying two-run homer to the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo.
  4. Exhumation of Dalí's remains finds his mustache still intact


    FIGUERES, Spain — Forensic experts in Spain have removed hair, nails and two long bones from Salvador Dalí's embalmed remains to aid a court-ordered paternity test that may enable a woman who says she is the surrealist artist's daughter to claim part of Dalí's vast estate.

    Salvador Dal? died in 1989 leaving vast estate.
  5. Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show


    WASHINGTON — Russia's ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, current and former U.S. …

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation after meetings with an ambassador were revealed.